Buckeyes visit Spartans in pivotal Big Ten matchup

12:48 PM, Jan 7, 2014   |    comments
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East Lansing, MI (SportsNetwork.com) - A marquee matchup in the Big Ten Conference takes center stage on Tuesday night, as the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes come calling on the fifth-ranked Michigan State Spartans.

Ohio State has yet to suffer a defeat this season, winning each of its first 15 games by an average margin of 18 points. The Buckeyes haven't had a ton of experience in true road tilts to this point, playing just two of them, but the most recent occurred in the conference opener at Purdue (78-69) on New Year's Eve, while their last game took place at home and resulted in an 84-53 shellacking of Nebraska on Saturday.

Michigan State has enjoyed nearly as much success, having just a single blemish on an otherwise spotless record (13-1). The Spartans are coming off a two-game, conference-opening road trip in which they topped both Penn State (79-63) and Indiana (73-56). MSU is 6-1 at home this season, and historically, the Breslin Center is as tough a place for visitors to steal a win as there is in the country.

Michigan State owns a 61-54 lead in the all-time series, but the Buckeyes have won two of the last three meetings in East Lansing, and are 22-11 versus the Spartans all-time when ranked in the AP Top-25. When both teams are ranked, they have split 14 meetings.

These same two teams will clash in the regular-season finale in Columbus two months from now.

Ohio State continues to play some of the best defense of any team in the country, ranking in the top-five with an average yield of only 54.9 ppg. The Buckeyes permit the opposition just a 36.9 percent success rate on field goal attempts, which includes a 24.3 percent showing from 3-point range -- both of which have them among the national leaders as well. OSU is also goading foes into more than 15 turnovers per outing. Offensively, the team is led by a pair of double-digit scorers in LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith, Jr., but their respective 13.6 and 12.7 ppg scoring averages suggest a more balanced attack, as a total of seven guys net at least 6.8 ppg in helping OSU put up 75.7 ppg.

Strong defense was once again the order of the day in Ohio State's recent rout of Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers converted just 37.5 percent of their total shots, which included a 4-of-15 effort from beyond the arc, while committing 13 turnovers. Amedeo Della Valle scored a team-high 15 points in only 17 minutes of action off the bench, while Marc Loving, also a reserve, joined Shannon Scott with 13 points apiece. Ross tallied 11 and Amir Williams chipped in 10 for the Buckeyes, who made good on 54 percent of their field goal attempts, with 9-of-19 3-point tries finding the bottom of the net. They also logged a substantial 21-7 advantage in points from the foul line.

Michigan State's near-perfect run has been predicated on its ability to shoot the basketball, as it is hitting 48.6 percent of its field goal attempts, which includes a 39.3 percent showing from 3-point land. The team is averaging 82.6 ppg, boasting four double-digit scorers in the starting lineup, led by Gary Harris and his 18.2 ppg. Adreian Payne (16.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Keith Appling (15.6 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.3 rpg) and Branden Dawson (11.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg) round out the top performers for the Spartans, who allow just 64.5 on typical shooting efforts of .377 overall and .317 from beyond the arc. MSU also owns favorable margins in both rebounding (+6.9) and turnovers (+2.4).

Harris, who despite continuing to feel the effects of an ankle injury that cost him some time earlier in the season, scored 17 of his game-high 26 points in the first half of Saturday's game at Indiana, leading the Spartans to a 17- point victory. Help came from Appling with 14 points and Dawson with 13, and the team as a whole drained 10-of-24 3-point tries. The Hoosiers were held to 39.6 percent field goal efficiency and they were rather careless with the basketball, leading to 15 turnovers.


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